New Outcomes Call for New Spaces
When we first started to work with the SmartCare organisation and talked through the design principles of their wellbeing service, it quickly became clear they had a serious intent to do something innovative. Their Social Prescribing Lead, Dr Aftab, wanted to mesh two sets of data. Firstly, she was meticulous about what could work for the person given the limited conversation that takes place during a consultation. Secondly, she was synthesising what she could glean about their wider (perhaps latent) needs. Needs we all share such as being heard; being relaxed; being brighter; being together.
Dr Aftab knows from experience that, whatever the medical circumstances her patients face, they invariably benefit when connected to a safe space where they can express themselves. And crucially that space isn’t necessarily physical. In fact, isolated people often attach themselves to physical spaces only to end up feeling even more isolated. When you think about it, that’s why they’re drawn to the GP surgery or the hospital. These are traditionally the safest of physical spaces. So much so that the family doctor has become the go-to “Hub” for the socially tired, weary and desolate, especially if they already have a medical condition. This new breed of isolation is the defining social malaise of our era.
“We need more safe spaces where people can experiment and express themselves without fear of judgement”
That’s why the SmartCare doctors do not so much “refer” patients as they do recommend them to this innovative wellbeing service. Becoming a member is a personal choice. The ability to choose is a critical component of the service model. Once the patients have accepted the invitation, along with their explicit consent to share aspects of their story, we contact them to talk about what wellbeing means for them.
Quite often, potential members can’t or don’t want to be too specific. They say things like, “I want to feel better in my skin.” Or, “I want to make a difference”. One person, who is on oxygen, said, “I’d like to be able to walk to the bottom of the garden to see my fish again.”
“Feeling vulnerable is a good place to start any wellbeing journey”
Paradoxically, a sense of uncertainty is a good starting point for any wellbeing conversation. Feeling vulnerable promotes acknowledgement of the truths within our circumstances. It prompts new questions. New questions generate possibilities. So, since we never ask, “what makes you feel better?” what’s the alternative?
We would like our members to come up with a “self-prescribed” benefit and we avidly support them to pursue it. This offers up the dual possibilities of collaboration and self-discovery. Few of us have ever reached that point of nothingness where we truly confront our naked self in relation to the world we inhabit. To travel to that point calls for serious navigating; avoiding the pitfalls and embracing the things that stimulate us to take notice, take an interest, and to help our fellow travellers without prejudice or favour.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space”
What can feel futile and demeaning in one space, can become powerfully liberating in another. So maybe the question we should be asking ourself is not what stimulates us to do one thing or another, but “where is my space?”; “What’s my thing and where and how do I find it? Or, as Viktor E. Frankly wrote in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning: “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space, there is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”